“But you went for a ride—the stable-men told me.”
“I believe that is true, Captain.”
“And your horse was brought home half an hour ago by a strange fellow who saluted like a soldier when I spoke to him, but refused to understand my English.”
“Well, they do say English isn’t very well taught at West Point, Captain,” she replied, pulling off her gloves. “You oughtn’t to blame the polite stranger for his courtesy.”
“I believe you have been up to some mischief, Shirley. If you are seeing that man Armitage—”
“Bah! What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to the ball with you as soon as I can change my gown. I suppose father and mother have gone.”
“They have—for which you should be grateful!”
Captain Claiborne lighted a cigar and waited.
THE COMEDY OF A SHEEPFOLD
A glance, a word—and joy or pain
Befalls; what was no more shall be.
How slight the links are in the chain
That binds us to our destiny!
Oscar’s eye, roaming the landscape as he left Shirley Claiborne and started for the bungalow, swept the upland Claiborne acres and rested upon a moving shadow. He drew rein under a clump of wild cherry-trees at the roadside and waited. Several hundred yards away lay the Claiborne sheepfold, with a broad pasture rising beyond. A shadow is not a thing to be ignored by a man trained in the niceties of scouting. Oscar, satisfying himself that substance lay behind the shadow, dismounted and tied his horse. Then he bent low over the stone wall and watched.
“It is the big fellow—yes? He is a stealer of sheep, as I might have known.”
Zmai was only a dim figure against the dark meadow, which he was slowly crossing from the side farthest from the Claiborne house. He stopped several times as though uncertain of his whereabouts, and then clambered over a stone wall that formed one side of the sheepfold, passed it and strode on toward Oscar and the road.
“It is mischief that brings him from the hills—yes?” Oscar reflected, glancing up and down the highway. Faintly—very softly through the night he heard the orchestra at the hotel, playing for the dance. The little soldier unbuttoned his coat, drew the revolver from his belt, and thrust it into his coat pocket. Zmai was drawing nearer, advancing rapidly, now that he had gained his bearings. At the wall Oscar rose suddenly and greeted him in mockingly-courteous tones:
“Good evening, my friend; it’s a fine evening for a walk.”
Zmai drew back and growled.
“Let me pass,” he said in his difficult German.
“It is a long wall; there should be no difficulty in passing. This country is much freer than Servia—yes?” and Oscar’s tone was pleasantly conversational.